Photo courtesy of Upstate Medical University
May is Older Americans Month. This year’s national theme, Communities of Strength, speaks to the Health Foundation’s commitment to supporting programs and resources that enable older adults to live full, independent lives in their community. As we continue to progress to a post-pandemic life, the challenges facing older adults and their caregivers are more apparent than ever, including social isolation and loneliness, two conditions that can have a serious impact on overall health. Read our earlier post about social isolation here.
To mark Older Americans Month, we are highlighting those in our community who are champions for improving the care and well-being of older adults; champions like Dr. Sharon Brangman.
Sharon A. Brangman, MD, FACP, AGSF is renowned for her research and clinical achievements in geriatric care, including in areas such as Alzheimer’s disease, hospice and palliative medicine, depression, end-of-life care and more. She joined the faculty at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse in October 1989, where she currently serves as Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of Geriatrics Medicine; Director of the Nappi Longevity Institute; and Director, Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease (CEAD).
Dr. Brangman developed University Geriatricians at SUNY Upstate, the most comprehensive ambulatory practice and interdisciplinary team in geriatric medicine in the region. She created and is director of Upstate’s Geriatric Medicine Fellowship Program, consistently accredited for more than 20 years; and created LinkAges, an innovative curriculum in geriatric medicine that advances student-patient relationships into all four years of medical school education.
The Health Foundation has had the opportunity to support Dr. Brangman’s previous work, on topics such as the early identification of cognitive decline. We also had a chance to speak with Dr. Brangman to discuss her work and current research.
You are the inaugural Chair of the Department of Geriatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University. There are only five such departments in the country and your program is only the second one in New York State. Tell us about your plans for the department.
I’m pretty pleased by the recognition of the importance of Geriatrics at SUNY Upstate. My goal is to expand programming and services to meet the needs of older adults in the region. We’re planning to expand clinical and educational services and research, and to train a health care workforce that’s able to care for our population and meet the needs of both older adults, and research programs focused on what they need.
We know that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on older adults. What have you seen in your practice?
The pandemic has really highlighted our cultural aversion to both getting older and meeting the needs of older adults. I think that the pandemic has been a perfect storm of the intersection of ageism and racism since we have seen those people most impacted by the virus.
I have patients who have had COVID-19 and those who no longer walk and move. That puts them at a higher risk for falls and, ultimately, leads to limited interaction with family members and others. Such social isolation and loneliness has severe physical consequences for older adults, including various diseases such as dementia and more. What we need to do is develop services that minimize the negative outcomes of social isolation and loneliness for older adults.
What type of research projects are you working on?
Our research falls into clinical trials focused on treating Alzheimer’s disease. We’ve been building a program for the past four or five years for trials in central New York to identify medications that may provide treatment for Alzheimer’s, since the ones available now only handle symptoms.
Another set of research focuses on service issues and needs. I attended an international meeting where studies from across the globe were presented and I was horrified to see that 95 percent of participants in these studies were white. Black people are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease. After seeing that, I began working with researchers at Mt. Sinai to work on effectively increasing diversity in clinical trials, ensuring that participants and patients feel their most comfortable.
We’re working on identifying Alzheimer’s in people before having to deal with the crisis that often comes after the diagnosis. We’ve been looking at the number of medications older adults take and have secured a grant that allows us to look at de-prescribing in nursing homes and other health care facilities to help providers determine what makes sense and what doesn’t. We continue to look to expand horizons and have a robust program with all individuals in mind.
Our team at SUNY Upstate is currently involved in six clinical trials. The Nappi Longevity Institute is participating in a multi-site study called PEACE-AD, which stands for Prazosin for Disruptive Agitation in Alzheimer’s disease. Prazosin has been used for several decades to treat high blood pressure, but may be able to help Alzheimer’s patients who have disruptive behavior due to the disease. The study is being coordinated by the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), a national academic research organization that specializes in clinical trials related to Alzheimer’s. (Read more about the study, which is seeking patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease to participate, here.)
In addition to the PEACE-AD study, enrollment will soon begin for a Lilly study program that may modify the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The study program is currently screening participants.